FEMA’s handling of Katrina supplies questioned nearly three years later

| 8/4/2008

Nearly three years after Hurricane Katrina killed more than 1,800 people in Louisiana and Mississippi, and displaced hundred of thousands of others, FEMA is still being called on the carpet for its handling of relief supplies meant for hurricane survivors.

For OOIDA members who carried hurricane relief supplies, including ice, water and food meant for Katrina survivors, the mishandling of supplies under FEMA’s direction strikes a familiar chord.

In a joint congressional hearing on Thursday, July 30, members of the House and Senate Homeland Security committees questioned officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency about why household goods meant for hurricane survivors sat unused for more than two years in a warehouse in Fort Worth, TX. The lawmakers also asked why supplies were recently distributed to 16 other states and federal agencies, instead of to survivors hard-hit by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-LA, who is chairman of the Disaster Recovery Subcommittee, called for the hearing to ensure that FEMA continues to develop a plan for the future on how to distribute donated goods to disaster victims.

Eric Smith, FEMA’s assistant administrator for logistics management, said cleaning supplies, kitchenware and towels were returned and then surplused after they were not used by hurricane survivors in the Gulf Coast states of Louisiana and Mississippi. However, Landrieu said FEMA never informed state officials these supplies for hurricane survivors were still available.

“How can people ask for something they don’t know exists,” Landrieu said.

At the hearing, Smith admitted to lawmakers that during and after Hurricane Katrina, FEMA had no formal system in place to track receipt and distribution of supplies. He also said the agency is still in the process of cataloging what hurricane supplies they have left.

Landrieu, who has been critical of FEMA since Katrina, said the agency must work on its emergency processes.

“It’s like if a house was on fire,” she said. “If the fire department operated the same way FEMA does, we would have to call the fire department and specifically request the hose, the pressurized water, the truck, the firefighters and the ladder, all before FEMA would acknowledge that they should send this equipment to help.”

– By Clarissa Kell-Holland, staff writer